Utah has a tradition of valuing education. Going all the way back to our beginnings, our citizens agreed that maintaining quality education in our state is essential. Seeing that our children have opportunities to learn is No. 1 on our priority list.
Referendum 1, the flawed voucher law, poses a threat to our future prosperity and to our childrens' education, which is key to each individual's path to success. Referendum 1 would jeopardize Utah public education and the opportunity our children have to realize their dreams.
It is ironic that the legislature and the governor demand ever-increasing accountability from our public schools, but are willing to give the largest entitlement in the state to a system with no accountability. To put taxpayers' money in the hands of people who may then spend it without telling the taxpayers where or how the money is being spent is wrong.
I urge you to study Referendum 1. You will find that this voucher law does not provide significant academic or financial accountability for schools that accept vouchers. It is an open-ended entitlement program, and does not provide any evidence that it will improve student achievement. Recent reports have indicated that there is little or no difference in the achievement of students whether they go to public schools or private schools that would benefit from vouchers. In Utah, 96 percent of students attend public schools. Providing additional financial assistance for public schools to raise Utah from the bottom among the states in class size now, that would be an accomplishment worth celebrating!
In addition, Utah's Referendum 1 would come at a great cost to Utah taxpayers. Studies show that it will cost about $429 million over the next 13 years. Where will that money come from? From the taxpayers. And, there is a five-year cap on assistance returned to public schools included in the Referendum, which could lead to increased taxes. Instead of diverting these precious resources to unaccountable private schools, we ought to invest in our public schools.
I do not believe this law will provide any real choice for students and parents. After all, it is the private schools that choose their students, and the cost of attending private schools in Utah is such that even with a voucher, most parents could not afford the remainder of the tuition even if they could get their children to these schools. This is especially true in rural areas that are rarely served by private schools.
Parents already have choice in the public schools. They may choose among traditional public schools, magnet schools and charter schools, many of which offer gifted and talented programs, concurrent enrollment programs, dual enrollment, and Advanced Placement classes. Currently, more than 50,000 public school students exercise choice within the public schools.
What we need to do is defeat Referendum 1 and make a real investment in our public schools. That will provide the opportunities Utah's students and parents want, and that they deserve.